Inexplicable ridges on Mars

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Inexplicable ridges on Mars
Click for full image.

Don’t ask me to explain the geology on today’s cool image, rotated, cropped and reduced above. Taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on August 16, 2019, the image’s uncaptioned website merely calls these “Convergent and Overlapping Narrow Curved Ridges.”

I don’t know why the sand in the hollows appears light blue, or even if it is sand. I don’t know what created the ridges, or why they seem to overlap each other randomly, or why they seem to peter out to the south.

I am sure there are planetary scientists out there who have theories that might explain these features. I also know that they would forgive me if I remained skeptical of those theories. This geology is a puzzle.

Hellas Basin, the basement of Mars

The location of these ridges is in the southeast corner of Hellas Basin, which I like to call the basement of Mars as it is the equivalent of the United States’ Death Valley, having the lowest relative elevation on the planet. As I have noted previously, the geology in this basin can be very strange. To my eye it often invokes a feeling that we are looking at Mars’s “uttermost foundation of stone” (to quote Tolkien), frozen lava that flowed in many ways and then froze in strange patterns.

Or not. Your guess is as good as mine.


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This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.

This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.

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  • Edward_2

    How about sending a Helium balloon to float in the Martian sky and send pictures of the land back to Earth?

    Also would a propeller drive drone be able to fly in the thin Martian atmosphere?

  • Edward_2: A helium balloon would likely not be practical because of the thinness of the atmosphere. I can’t do the math, but my off the cuff guess would be that even if it could float it couldn’t carry the weight of any instruments.

    As for a drone, the next rover, Mars2020, due to launch in July, will be taking with it a test helicopter to see if this concept can work. Should be exciting.

  • Max

    I believe that mars atmosphere is too thin for a helicopter, It did not perform great in the vacuum chamber, I’m hoping to be surprised. It will use power quickly for short trips. Keeping enough power in reserve to return to land on the rover for recharge will be the true test, one mistake and the rover will be required to retrieve it with the robotic arm and place it on the charger.
    This is the best option for looking into the pits on the surface to locate a suitable habitat for future colonist.

    For a helium balloon, thin lightweight solar panels and optical sensors are now available. Mylar material for a large helium balloon will easily lift a cell phone size data package.
    To make a balloon viable, two systems need to be made lighter. A helium compressor that drops the balloon for closer viewing during the day after releasing helium into the balloon for lift during the cold of night to avoid dragging on the ground.
    And a light weight energy storage battery/capacitor.
    Recent tesla innovations clams they’re developing a battery that will power one of their cars for 1,000,000 miles.

    The future for light weight, fast charging, Energy density 2 to 5 times more than lithium, safety from exploding, unlimited charging, works in extreme cold, is heading towards the solid-state battery. In every way, perfect for Mars. 15min

    There will soon be no reason not to send a package to Mars that will inflate dozens or more helium balloons to drift aimlessly across the surface uploading their pictures, temperature, wind speed to overhead satellites. Until a high altitude dust storm static charge obscures the hundreds of fish eye cameras, the paper thin solar panels, and weighs the balloon down to drag on the ground to eventually become just a remote weather station until the solar panels fail. Perhaps an anti- static charge material will prevent this until solar UV degrades and oxidizes the materials which eventually happens to everything. Then it’s lifespan will be limited only by its supply of helium that replaces what leaks.

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